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Dear Jussie Smollett: As a Gay, Black Survivor of a Violent Attack, I Feel Let Down

I don’t want to jump to conclusions … again. That’s what got so many of us into trouble after you became trending news on Jan. 29. Although things are looking rather bleak for you, Jussie, this is still America, where you are innocent until proven guilty.

It’s also the era of #MeToo, which has taught us to try harder to believe the victim. When you told Chicago police that you’d been attacked, insulted with racist and homophobic slurs in a major city with a significant black population, bleached, noosed, and “MAGA”-d, I believed you, no questions asked.

I believed in you.

I should have asked more questions, or taken the ones that were put to you by others more seriously. My own personal history led me to suspend my disbelief more vigorously than I otherwise might have. I saw so much of myself in you.

Like you, I’m black. Like you, I’m gay. Like you, I’ve been publicly outspoken against President Donald Trump because of his racist, sexist, xenophobic, anti-LGBTQ views.

I’m not a talented actor and musician. I don’t have the power to turn the world on with a song. But as I’ve watched the trials and tribulations of your Empire character Jamal Lyon over the course of five seasons, I’ve felt close to you, someone I’ve never met.

Even more than our shared race and sexual orientation, I related to you after the alleged attack because, as the survivor of a violent crime, I can say I’ve been there.

It happened 12 years ago this month, when I was living in Buenos Aires. Three strangers broke into my apartment while I was out picking up lunch and surprised me when I returned home unannounced. For me, it was three against one on the bathroom floor.

I remember after they left, my take-out was next to where the men had tied me up next to the bathtub. Had I been jumped on the street, I might have picked up the food and brought it with me to the nearest police station. So I didn’t side-eye your story when I heard you’d hung onto your Subway sandwich.

I didn’t raise an eyebrow because you kept the rope around your neck. After I was attacked, I wore my bloody hoodie all day until I finally took it off before going to bed. I’m not sure why I didn’t change, but being assaulted makes you do irrational, inexplicable things.

I got it — not just because I know what it feels like to be outnumbered in a violent attack. I also got it because I know what it feels like to be targeted for being black, for being gay. It didn’t matter to me that you claimed to have been assaulted in the middle of the night in subzero temperatures. It’s not my job — nor is it that of any crime survivor — to explain the minds of criminals.

But if it turns out that you are the criminal, I hope you will at least attempt to explain your mind. I’m going to want to know what a successful actor and musician would have to gain in the long run by jeopardizing his career and his freedom to stage a fake crime, especially one that implicated all “MAGA” flag-wavers by association.

Now those diehard Trump fanatics who like to use political correctness against us will have more ammunition. They will gloat in glee because, for the second time in recent memory, “MAGA” was prematurely turned into the villain of Trump’s America. Now they will paint those of us who are on the other side as drama queens crying wolf whenever we talk about racism, homophobia, or any of the prejudicial American conditions that the last two years have exposed.

Was it the money — or rather, that you wanted more of it for your contribution to “Empire’s” success, as the Chicago police superintendent has surmised? Aren’t there better ways to go about getting a raise than spending a few grand to stage a hate crime?

Was it the publicity and instant fame? Was it the fact that a “MAGA” endorsement mid-alleged hate crime would make President Donald Trump and his more vocal blind followers look bad? Don’t they already do that on their own?

A lot has been said about how, if you are guilty of staging this attack, you’ve let down the black and gay communities as well as people who actually have to endure violent crimes. Now we will have to face even more skepticism and doubt, even when it isn’t warranted. In the most extreme sense, it seems like your false report has given permission for copycat attacks against other gay, black men.

If you are indeed guilty (and I will try my best to presume your innocence until you’re proven guilty, which, as some “MAGA” fans seem to have conveniently forgotten, is the American way), surely this can’t be what you wanted. Blacks didn’t need another hate crime to prove that we’re oppressed. Gays didn’t need one either. We certainly don’t need to put a celebrity face on our oppression. Reality proves that it exists.

Sadly, some will use this story as evidence that this oppression doesn’t exist — or that it isn’t as bad as we say it is. From now on, every time I think about one of us suffering in silence because we’re too afraid to speak up, I’ll be thinking about you, too.

Welcome to your potential legacy.

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